Back in 2019, Sharon and I booked a cabin with Virgin Voyages on the yet-to-be-finished Scarlet Lady. While we’ve been on several cruises with Disney, Holland America and Royal Caribbean, we’re not avid cruisers. In fact, it had been several years (even before we started writing YMMV 5.5 years ago) since our last cruise.
The Virgin Voyages model seemed to fit our demographic. No kids. No tips. No main showroom. No main dining room. No dining upcharges. Drag brunches. The concept photos looked amazing, so we decided to try it. (Looking at those pics now, those concept photos look amazingly like the finished product. Good for you, Virgin!)
We decided against going on one of the inaugural cruises in early 2020 and instead booked a cabin on Richard’s Birthday Bash sailing in July. The billionaire’s birthday is July 18th and, at the time, he would be turning 70.
Sir Richard Branson will celebrate his birthday bash among celebrity friends and fellow Sailors aboard a four-night Havana After Dark voyage departing July 15, 2020. Sailors are invited to book their passage aboard this one-of-a-kind trip by visiting www.virginvoyages.com. Sailors willing to test their luck can enter for a chance to win a cabin for two now through March 31, 2019 by visiting RichardsBirthday.VirginVoyages.com.
It sounded cool and while it cost a bit more than the other trips, we figured that the cruise line would do everything in its power to fix all of the problems that happen on any new ship before Sir Richard stepped onboard.
Needless to say, the 2020 trip was canceled, along with the rescheduled trip in 2021. We re-booked the Birthday Bash sailing twice, receiving a nice discount from Virgin Voyages each time we scheduled a new trip. We were set for the 2022 sailing but there was little information from the cruise line about what special to expect on the cruise. Long gone were the special DJ sets from Marc Bronson and Cozumel had long replaced Havana as a port-of-call.
We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at the Virgin terminal at the Port of Miami. As we checked in and went through X-ray check, we were held for “VIPs.” Whatever.
Then we were led to the hallway to the ship.
And there he was. Dressed as Triton, or whomever, amongst Mermaids and a Merman. What else would you expect from Richard Branson?
We grabbed a second to thank him for the picture and I think we both realized how surreal this moment in time was. We were boarding a ship and greeted by the figure representing the brand, dressed in a crown and holding a trident.
Sure, It wasn’t the same as when Greg from Frequent Miler got to tell Sir Richard that he paid for a trip to Necker Island with points he earned with credit card sign-up bonuses. And while Sharon wanted to photo bomb this scene to add to her collection, we passed on the opportunity because there was a line of people behind us.
As it was, we thought we’d have plenty of other chances to see him on board if he was greeting guests as they boarded.
In fact, that’s exactly what didn’t happen. As it turned out, Richard had other plans for his birthday and 250 of his friends and family had been invited to join him. In fact, one of the restaurants was blocked off from guests each evening because the birthday party was dining there that night.
The only opportunity to meet him, outside of luck if he happened to be walking around the ship, was to enter a contest (which we entered. And lost).
At least it looks like he had a good time on the cruise.
Wonderful being onboard @VirginVoyages surrounded by family and friends for my birthday. It was five days full of surprises that brought me so much joy: https://t.co/LKU8XVsIC1 pic.twitter.com/vT9jgl0DOI
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 25, 2022
I’m not entirely honest.Everyone on the cruise was invited to take a birthday picture with him at the Beach Club at Bimini.
We waited in the swimming pool while he stood on a picnic table for a drone photo. I’ve yet to see a public copy of the picture to see if we’re even in it. However, after the photo shoot, there were cupcakes, which made everything better.
But I had my 5 seconds of time with Sir Richard Branson, where we shared the surreal idiocy of cruise ship passengers getting a picture with a man with a crown and trident surrounded by merpeople. So I have that going for me. Which is nice.
This embodies Richard Branson’s mantra, “Screw it, Let’s do it!”
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